I am a single mother with two great little girls, aged 6 & 7. I teach 4 days a week in a Business School which is a job I have been doing since 1998, and I rent out three holiday homes, both of which I thoroughly enjoy doing most of the time, but there are times when it is extremely hard work.
We live in rural Basse Normandie, near Saint-Lô. I moved to France some 15 years ago pretty much by accident and certainly with no forethought. I came with my then boyfriend on more of a fantasy shopping trip than anything. We had been looking for a house to buy near Oxford, where I worked for about 6 months, with precious little luck. One of the estate agents sent us their catalogue, and on the back page they had a list of foreign listings and so we went to France to just “have a look”. We came for Easter weekend, and looked at about 6 houses. When I saw my house I knew that I wanted it if I could afford it. We visited it for a second time the next day and put in an offer that same evening. And the deal was done.
We moved to France at the end of August, with all we could fit into my Ford Fiesta, along with a cat and 2 dogs. We signed on the house 1st September 1995, and the rest of our furniture arrived several weeks later. We moved from a 2 bedroom cottage, to a 5 bedroom house so our furniture made little islands in each room!
Over the years I have grown into the house, but it has taken time.
The Beach House
I wasn’t really looking to buy a second house. No, that’s not true – I definitely wasn’t looking to buy a house. I went into the estate agents to ask if they had anything to rent in St Martin de Bréhal for next summer. They replied they would have, but their “location saisonnière” list wasn’t out for a couple of months yet.
I was with a girlfriend who lives in the States, who was staying with us before and after Christmas, and my daughters were at their Dad’s house. The estate agents’ has two offices in the building “locations” and “ventes”. I asked Fi if she minded if I asked about building plots in the other office, and with her agreement we went off to ask. All house hunting is more fun in pairs, I suspect, with someone to egg you on.
The price and size of the building plots available was a bit of a surprise, and that was without the building. I’ve never done a build but had been advised by an estate agent friend that new builds and stone houses are the only things that are guaranteed sellers. A stone house anywhere near a beach is extremely dear, even in rural Normandy. So, anyway, having been told the price of the land and price per m2 for building, I asked if they had anything for less than a certain amount that was already built. Only 2 properties on their books! One of them was an absolute No No. Off we go to have a look at the other. All very speculative and I have no intention what so ever of buying. Ha.
Location, location, location.
It is not a particular pretty house, built in the 60’s, mostly white, and in need of some TLC. Like the tardis it looks small from the outside but turns out to have 6 bedrooms, all of them a reasonable size, and the house is in a totally liveable state. But, the location is too perfect. We are the last house on the street, and the last street in the village. Beyond us are only a horse spa, the salt marshes and dunes. I can leave the garden gate and walk straight onto the marshes without even having to look at a dog lead. And the garden is totally enclosed.
Perhaps I should explain about the dogs. We have three, 2 springers and a cocker. Now I’m not sure if all springers are stupid, but mine are not exactly brilliant. And I have discovered that a stupid dog is just so much easier to have around than a bright one. My youngest daughters dog is Spot the springer, and it took him 6 months to master the one syllable of “sit”.
Dougal, the cocker, is my eldest daughter’s dog – and he is definitely not stupid. If he were human he’d be heading for a First from Oxford. But with brains come problems. It turns out he has ears that turn off completely at the first sniff of anything remotely interesting, and if anything runs, he’s a completely lost cause. So far rabbits, deer, small fluffy yapping dogs and sheep have turned out to be causes of serious red faces.
Back to the location, the house is 500m from the beach – which isn’t just any beach – it is a 12km sandy beach on the gulf stream, where even a total pussy like me can swim. That said, I’m not a particularly keen sea swimmer, you never know what is waiting to grab you.
My neighbours, as previously mentioned, are a horse spa. As I grew up in an eventing yard this really makes me feel at home. I love pretty much everything about horses, and these are horses that are in wonderful shape, bouncing out of their skins, galloping up the beach, and generally in the best of condition, which isn’t always the case everywhere, but is particularly noticeable in recession hit rural areas at the moment.
At the bottom of the street, on the sea front are a sailing school, which do sailing lessons, sand yachting etc. and a golf course. At the end of the other street (we are on a corner) 3 houses away, is the racecourse, and in the summer one of the local riding school moves to the racecourse, so we have activities galore literally on the doorstep, all accessible by foot.
Having seen the house and fallen in love with the location, I bring my estate agent friend to have a look. We come up with what we consider to be a reasonable offer, which is rejected out of hand. I then get some quotes done for the work to bring the property up to date – 40 – 50,000€. Gulp. Over the following months I slowly up the offer, until I really think I can’t go any further, all I can do is sit and wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually my final offer is accepted, a fair bit under the asking price, so I am pretty pleased with myself, despite the fact that I have broken every rule in the book. I have not even been to look at a single other house, the location of this one is just perfect for me.